Starbucks is rolling out pumpkin spice lattes, starting with an early access option that starts today. This means it's the time of year for everyone's favorite overpriced seasonal beverage. This doesn't mean we'll be adding extra pumpkin to our diet, because Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes™, despite the name, contain no pumpkin.
Look, I am not a Pumpkin Spice Hater. I am pretty much the exact type of person you'd think likes the damned things. I would gladly guzzle a bucket of Starbucks' devilishly tasty autumn juice. I also love Sephora and Sex and the City (I am a mix of Carrie and Miranda, thanks for asking). I'm the person twirling around in a tweed jacket remarking on how CRISP it feels outside as I sip on my drink.
This is not a screed borne of condescension, but of truth-seeking.
We are not warming our hands on a product containing even a lick of orange gourd goodness. Starbucks hasn't yet replied to my request for a complete ingredient list, but here's what we know. Vani Hari, who blogs at Food Babe, recently pieced together a semi-complete ingredient list by looking at what is in the individual components on the Starbucks website. As mentioned: zero pumpkin. Instead, we get caramel color level IV, which is made with ammonia and is gross enough that Starbucks is saying it plans to phase it out following Hari's complaints. (Update: as commenters pointed out, the food coloring is considered safe by the FDA, so Starbucks is probably phasing it out more to avoid a backlash than it is because of any pressing health risk. Doesn't mean it's not gross, though.) There's also a shit ton of sugar, and vegans who order theirs with soy will be sad to know the pumpkin spice mix itself contains condensed milk.
Many of Starbucks' drinks are unhealthy, and it's not like the PSL™ is unique in the way the name does not match up with the ingredients. I'm guessing there's no gingerbread in the Gingerbread latte, and there's sure as hell no Oprah in the Teavana® Oprah Chai. But the PSL™ has attained such a devoted fan base that the fundamental dishonesty behind the name is especially rankling. Sure, Starbucks will admit that the drink is pumpkin-free. But it still puts the word "pumpkin" front and center, and it really shouldn't. It shouldn't even want to. Have you tasted raw pumpkin? It tastes like dirt, not Halloween. Starbucks has invented a superior flavor, which they should celebrate. They just shouldn't masquerade it as remotely related to pumpkins.
Here are some more appropriate suggestions:
1) Fall spice latte
2) Autumn spice latte
3) White girl latte
4) We're all going to die, eventually, and might as well enjoy our mediocre artificially flavored hot drink latte
5) Pumpkin-spice latte (hyphen added to denote that it contains spices designed to emulate the idea of how pumpkin tastes, and not both pumpkin and spices)
Any other suggestions, dear readers? There are several very tasty-looking pumpkin spice latte recipes available online that contain real pumpkin and other non-gross ingredients. You could make those and feel especially zen as you cavort among the leaves as they change shades. Or, like me, you can just continue guiltily ordering Starbucks' bogus ass drink because you're lazy and it does, objectively, taste delicious. Whether or not you're jumping ship, we should all agree on one thing: the thing needs to be called by its true name.
(Update 2: A very gracious Starbucks spokesperson responded. They pointed out the same thing my dear commentariat pointed out: that the lattes are named after pumpkin spice, the spice mix. "The Pumpkin Spice Latte has become the company's most popular seasonal beverage of all time, and we do not have plans to change the recipe," a spokesperson told me. Fair enough. The recipe is delicious and I should've checked myself before I wrecked myself citing a fear-mongering food blogger when I insulted the 'Bucks recipe. I still think the name has confused people over the years and the whole "there's no pumpkin" thing was worth pointing out.)
Image credit: Jeff Wilcox/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)